The Big Project Syndrome and the Early Days of AI: Lessons in Strategy and Innovation


Hatched by Glasp

Sep 26, 2023

4 min read


The Big Project Syndrome and the Early Days of AI: Lessons in Strategy and Innovation


In the fast-paced world of business and technology, companies often find themselves caught up in the allure of big projects and the promise of groundbreaking advancements. However, as we delve deeper into the phenomenon of the Big Project Syndrome and explore the early days of AI, it becomes evident that a different approach is needed to ensure success and avoid wasteful endeavors. In this article, we will examine the common points between these two concepts and uncover valuable insights that can guide leaders and innovators towards more effective strategies and outcomes.

The Pitfall of the Big Project Syndrome:

The allure of a big idea can be captivating for any leadership team. They envision it as the future of the company and prioritize it above all else. Unfortunately, this often leads to underwhelming results when the product finally launches. Customers show little interest, and key metrics remain unaffected. However, due to the perceived importance of the project, leaders rally the troops for a massive rescue operation, believing that success is just one feature or campaign away. This mentality, fueled by an output-focused culture, breeds a cycle of wasted time and resources.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Shift the focus from execution to outcomes: Instead of fixating on launching one big, unproven idea, set goals centered around delivering tangible benefits to customers and the business. This mindset encourages a results-oriented approach and reduces the risk of wasting resources on projects with little value.
  • 2. Embrace distributed expertise: In traditional hierarchical organizations, leaders hold the belief that they possess the foresight to choose the right ideas, while those beneath them handle the details. However, in modern organizations, knowledge and expertise are dispersed throughout the workforce. Encourage collaboration and empower employees at all levels to contribute their unique insights and ideas.
  • 3. Define goals and provide context: The role of a leader should be to establish clear goals, communicate the intent and desired outcomes, and provide as much context as possible. Instead of dictating solutions, leaders should foster an environment where their reports can discover the right solutions. This approach fosters collaboration and empowers employees to take ownership of their work.

The Early Days of AI and the Shift in Capabilities:

When discussing AI, it is essential to recognize that we are in the midst of a new era, characterized by a step function in capabilities and products. In the past, the value generated by AI largely favored incumbents over startups due to limited advancements. However, with the advent of LLMs, Transformers, and diffusion models, the landscape has shifted, presenting new market openings for startups.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Embrace the new era of AI: Understand that AI represents a significant leap in capabilities and products. Rather than viewing it as a continuum with past technologies, recognize it as a distinct and transformative era. This perspective will enable businesses to tap into its full potential and stay ahead of the curve.
  • 2. Anticipate future waves of AI: As AI continues to evolve, it is crucial to anticipate upcoming waves of innovation. Currently, we are in the second wave, with early startup adopters and fast mid-market incumbents leveraging technologies like GPT-3.5/4. However, the third and fourth waves are on the horizon, introducing new formats, verticals, and types of infrastructure. Stay informed and be prepared to capitalize on emerging opportunities.
  • 3. Foster enterprise adoption: While startups are at the forefront of AI adoption, we can expect larger companies to follow suit in the coming years. The lengthy planning and build cycles within enterprise environments mean that products from major players will begin to emerge in 2024/2025. This opens up vast potential for collaboration and partnership between startups and established enterprises.


The Big Project Syndrome and the early days of AI share common threads, emphasizing the importance of strategic thinking and adaptability. By shifting the focus from execution to outcomes, embracing distributed expertise, and defining goals while providing context, companies can break free from the trap of wasteful projects. Simultaneously, recognizing the transformative nature of AI, anticipating future waves of innovation, and fostering enterprise adoption will position businesses for success in this new era. As we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of technology and strategy, these lessons serve as valuable guideposts for leaders and innovators alike.

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